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Cisco expands metro Ethernet offering

The networking giant is beefing up its enterprise Ethernet portfolio. Analysts predict the market to pick up over the next few years.

Cisco Systems, the leader in enterprise Ethernet switching, is adding products and features to its portfolio to make the technology more appealing to an emerging service provider market.

On Tuesday, Cisco announced the addition of the Catalyst 3750, along with several enhancements for its 7600 router and its Catalyst 6500 and 4500 Ethernet switches. Individually, the product enhancements and additions are not very exciting. But taken as a whole, they spell out Cisco's continuing commitment to Ethernet in the service provider network.

Ethernet has become the de facto standard for connecting users in corporate networks. Almost every company is familiar with the Ethernet interface. As a result, standards are well-defined and products are cheap. Currently, most service providers use a technology called SONET/SDH (Synchronous Optical Network/Synchronous Digital Hierarchy) to transport traffic within metropolitan areas. But this technology, which was developed for voice traffic, does not transport Internet Protocol traffic efficiently. What's more, SONET/SDH equipment is much more expensive than most Ethernet gear.

Ethernet supporters say that instead of using SONET/SDH, these carriers can use lower-cost Ethernet gear to more efficiently and cheaply connect corporate customers in metropolitan area networks.

So far, metropolitan Ethernet deployment has been slow, especially in the United States, but analysts expect it to pick up over the next few years. According to a recent study published by Infonetics Research, more than $24 billion will be spent worldwide on Ethernet in metropolitan networks between 2003 and 2007. The research firm believes that for at least the next 10 years, Ethernet will account for a larger portion of metropolitan capital expenditures, driving double-digit growth through 2007.

For Cisco, already the leading supplier of corporate Ethernet gear, expanding its metropolitan Ethernet portfolio to address this growing market makes perfect sense. The company has been developing products for the metropolitan market for the past few years.

The new Catalyst 3750 is a fixed configuration switch for customer sites. Starting at about $6,000, the switch is designed to help provide virtual private network services to corporate customers connecting to a carrier network via Ethernet.

Cisco also introduced a new module that can be used in both its 7600 router and Catalyst 6500 switch. The module offers 48 "mix and match" small form-factor optics, which let carriers swap interfaces in and out of the chassis depending on the type of traffic being aggregated. The company also added features to ensure quality of service across an entire network.

And finally, Cisco expanded support for an emerging standard called virtual private LAN service (VPLS) onto its Catalyst 4500 switches. VPLS is a technology that allows companies to connect offices in different locations, regardless of the distance between them, as though they were part of the same local area network. The company already offers VPLS capability on the 7600 router and 6500 switch.